Monday, March 3, 2014

How Summer Camp Saved My Life

When I was in middle school life was rough. On top of the bullying and figuring out who you really are, that most middle schoolers go through, I had some extenuating circumstances making my life particularly difficult. Growing up, my home life was never great. Most of the time it wasn’t very good. There is not a time I can remember that does not contain yelling or fighting. I learned early on how to play bartender. Im there was always an odor of what my brother told me were old cigarettes but what I soon discovered to be marijuana. these behaviors day after day takes a toll on a kid. In the seventh grade, I reached the climax that sent me hurtling downward. It was at this time that my mother left. There wasn’t a big scene or at least not that I can remember. Instead, she just didn’t come home from work. In fact she had been gone for a few days before I actually noticed. It was not out of the ordinary for her to not come home after work. After a while, I noticed that she had not come home for quite some time. That’s when my father told me that she had left us. Specifically, she had left him, but by default she had left me as well. At this point in my life, 13 years later I have reached a place where I can forgive her. But I spent many years being very angry.In just a few weeks my world was tossed upside down. Suddenly we were moving out of our apartment, but leaving all of our things behind. I was moving in with my grandmother for a few weeks, and then once school was over I was off to Ohio to live with my dad’s sister. Dad was living in his car for a while, and then spent time staying on couches. I finally started paying attention to the world around me, the whispers, the signs, and realized that my mother had abandoned me. Maybe she only intended to leave my father but I had been abandoned in the process. I don’t know if she woke up one day and decided that she no longer wanted to be a mother and chose drugs instead, but that is exactly how it appeared to me.
I spent two months living in Ohio with my aunt and her family. In that time, my father attempted to sign guardianship over to my aunt. This was something I was torn over. On the one hand, it would be great to live with my cousins full time but at the same time, did no one want me? My mother had abandoned me, and now my father did not want me any longer. In the end, things did not go through and the day before classes were to start I flew back to Massachusetts. I spent the eighth grade depressed. To this day, I do not think that anyone knew what was going on inside of me. I spent the year staying with different people from my church. A couch here, a spare bed there, not really having anywhere of my own.  It was at this time that I started cutting myself. Not anywhere people would see. My legs could be covered by pants. And never very deep. Just enough to feel the burn. To feel external pain to go with the internal pain I felt every day.  Sometimes I would mess up and cut where I could get caught, and yet no one thought twice of the sweatshirt I wore on hot summer days. 11 years later you cannot see the marks on my skin anymore. I was always so careful. Though I was depressed and fighting internal monsters, I never wanted to have to explain myself. You can achieve a lot of pain without much visible damage.
By the end of eighth grade, my depression as at its worst. And to this day, I wonder if anyone knew just how depressed I was. I was depressed enough that I wanted to kill myself. I had a plan. I was going to jump in front of a red line train. Throughout my life, the one seemingly stable thing was camp. Every summer I went to camp and every summer the same friends were there. My plan was to wait until after camp to go through with my plan.  At the end of camp, when I said good-bye, I would be saying goodbye for the last time.
However, that week of camp is why I am still here. That week of camp is what kept me alive. That week of camp saved my life. That week was unlike any other week of camp. It was not just a week spent swimming in the lake, doing arts & crafts, canoeing, and archery. Instead, for some reason, this year had an entirely different look. We were told that we were going on a river trip. Something we had done in the past. However this year, we would not be canoeing. Instead we would be making our own rafts. We were presented with 2x4s, plywood, duct tape, rope, and large Pepsi barrels and told that we had 3 days to design and build rafts that would carry us and all of our gear down the Merrimack River. It seemed like a silly idea but I worked on it with my friends. Once they were finished, we were driven to the Merrimack River and push off the bank. Three days later we would be picked up many miles south in another state. The ensuing 3 days on the river are what would change my life. It started out like any other river trip we had gone on. We had fun, we splashed each other with water, and we attempted to figure out how the rudder we made for our raft might actually work. At night we would set up camp on the shore of the river. Because we were a Christian camp we would sing praise songs and hymns around the fire and had time for worship. And I would sit there amongst my friends and stare at the stars that I never saw in the city and think of how much I never wanted to leave this place. How much better life would be if camp just went on forever? And I would then be faced with reality and remember that in just a few days, it would be back to Boston, back to reality, and back to the darkness that weighed on me day after day.
But then, then we talked about Jonah. It’s fitting to have a bible story that takes place on the sea when rafting down a river. In some ways I felt a lot like Jonah. We were both fleeing from things. Jonah was fleeing from God. I was trying to flee from what I saw as the misery of my life. But we were very different. Jonah was only in the darkness of the whale’s belly for three days. My entire life felt like it was being lived in the whale’s belly. There was not light anymore. But then the fish spit Jonah out. God had a plan for Jonah. The time in the darkness had a limit. And I realized that maybe my time in the darkness had a limit. Maybe I would be spit out of the metaphorical whale’s belly sometime soon. Maybe this week of camp, this week of feeling loved and wanted, this week of light was a taste of what life would be like once I was spit out. And then, one of the counselors reminded us that God does have a plan for us. We probably won’t be called to go talk to a nation on behalf of God like Jonah was, but God has a plan for each and every one of us that God is just waiting to reveal.
God had a plan for me. I could not return to the city at the end of camp only to take my own life. God had a plan for me. Even if my parents did not love me, my friends did. Even though I felt like I didn’t have a place to call my own, where I could lay my head at night, camp would always be my home. At the end of camp I promised my friends that I would see them at our winter weekend in February, I promised them that I would see them on Instant Messenger, and I promised that I would see them next summer. I made promises to them, but they were promises to me more than anything. Promises that I would not take my own life, promises that I would stop hurting myself.  Because in that one week at camp, camp had saved my life and I needed to live in order to get spit out and see the plan that God had for my life.

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